Should an unpublished author maintain a writer blog? This is a fraught topic for many writers. Some seem forced into blogging. Others love it. If you’re happy to blog, please do it. This post is geared mostly to people who are on the fence and who are feeling pressure to start a writer blog because they hear that’s what they’re supposed to do. The tone of this question is usually, “Do I have to blog?”
The Unpublished Author Quest for a Platform
This is a question that comes up a lot at conferences and from people who email me. It’s the familiar scenario: You’re an unpublished author chasing publication. You don’t have a book or a deal to blog about yet, but you’ve heard that you need an author platform and Internet presence, and you’ve heard that a writer blog can get you friends and traffic and riches and unicorns, and you’ve also heard about this Twitter thing. Yet it sounds overwhelming. And you wonder if you have enough to blog about. You wonder if you have the time to keep up with all these things.
But if the online writing groups you see other unpublished writers enjoying keeps bugging you — You have to blog! You have to Tweet! You have to Facebook!
What’s an unpublished author to do?
Your Time Is Better Invested Writing
I’m going to say, probably, the exact opposite of what you’d expect. See, I’m a person who blogs. And I have a Twitter. And I’m on Facebook. I also grew up in the Silicon Valley and worked for a bunch of Internet start-ups before I got involved in publishing. You think I’d be totally into unpublished authors blogging, Tweeting, flickring, Buzzing, Facebooking, and all that. Right?
I never look at the writer blogs of people who query me unless they can give me some kind of impressive fact, like “30,000 people visit this blog per month” or “I draw a daily web cartoon and have a following” or “I’ve created an interactive game that you can play” or whatever.
The Worst Thing You Can Do Is Blog Halfheartedly
If you’re iffy on blogging and worry, already, that you’ll run out of material, I say don’t do it. There are too many bad blogs, blogs about people’s cats (I swore I would never blog about my cat…then she got sick and I freaked out and I blogged…at every writer’s conference I attend, people still ask me about my cat!), blogs about their word count for the day and what book they’re reading, blogs by people who think they need a blog. Don’t add one more to the pile. Blogs without good, useful information or blogs by a clearly reluctant author are the worst.
The thing about blogs is that they’re a living thing. Blogs take your most recent entry and post it first. For the savvy, content-rich blog, that’s great. For the reluctant blog, that’s bad. Readers can log on and see the exact date when you lost your zest for blogging or ran out of content. And I’d say that a blog last updated in September 2009 is worse than no blog at all. It makes you seem out-of-date, irrelevant…maybe even dead. (Old blogs frozen in time are almost creepy.)
Being Practical About Platform
Fiction writers don’t need to pay attention to that whole “You have to have a platform” myth as much as nonfiction writers do. If you’re writing a novel or a picture book…what is your platform? That you like writing and you’re writing a novel or a picture book. Just like all the other writers out there. Unless you happen to be an expert in a subject matter that plays into your fiction, or you’re some other kind of professional writer who is crossing over, you’re not going to have any more platform than that.
The reason why I’m so negative about unpublished authors blogging and Tweeting is that it’s usually not good content. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet from actually working for it for all those years, it’s that users come to the Internet to see, “What’s in it for me?” They want valuable content that speaks to them. They Google: “How do I get this stain out of my white carpet?” “Is it okay that my baby is turning sort of purple?” (It’s probably not.) “How do I stop the hiccups?” “What’s a great summer BBQ recipe?”
A Writer Blog Works Best When The Content Helps Others…Not You
Most writer blogs — and most blogs in general — are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I have a blog, but you’ll notice that I try to keep myself and my life out of it (and I was doing a dang good job until my cat got sick!). I want to use this space to give you valuable content, because I know that’s what people want from me. At the end of the day, they have their own cats to worry about, but they would like some writing and publishing advice.
The Benefit of Blogging Before Publication
Unpublished author blogs do one positive thing, usually: they foster community among other unpublished writers. You can come gripe about book rejection, brag about word count, share your successes and frustrations and make friends.
While that’s nice for you, it has little value to an agent or editor (and not all of us feel this way, so please take this as my opinion) who comes to visit. Unpublished authors also write about writing in their blog, and that may attract other unpublished writers, but it does have a limited reach. Published writers who write about writing usually attract a wider audience, as they have perceived authority.
If you have a writer blog where you can give people really valuable content, tips, and things to make their lives better (or at least to give them good cocktail party conversation), do it. If you are just thinking of blogging because everyone else does it or you heard that agents won’t consider you unless you have a writer blog, don’t.
Spend Your Time Writing
Plus, Web 2.0 (social networking) is a time suck. You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole with Tweets and Facebook updates. Then you lose sight of the thing that’s really going to get you published: writing.
Focus on your writing. And if you feel the need to be online, which you should, at least in some small way, put up a simple three page author website: main landing page with info about your work, about you page, contact page. That’s it, and it should be cheap to make a page that actually looks good and professional.
Once you’re under contract with a publisher, of course, everything changes. You’ll have stuff to say. You’ll have a book to sell. You’ll have events to publicize. You’ll have readers who want to know more about you. For now, though, don’t bow to the peer pressure if you really don’t feel comfortable blogging or Tweeting or Facebooking.
Do you have strategy questions about how to best use your valuable time? Need writing career advice? I’m happy to be your writing and publishing consultant, and we can come up with a road map together.
72 Replies to “Should An Unpublished Author Maintain a Writer Blog?”
Thank you for this really valuable information. I’m working on a book and a short story, and I was suffering from the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-blog syndrome. I thought it was a hopeless case until I came here and found the antidote. Again, thank you.
I respectfully disagree with your overall conclusion, whilst I do accept your points about having something to say and it not working if you only do it because everyone else does.
I have a problem with people who start tweeting or blogging just because they now have something to sell “Come buy my stuff. I’ll sign anything that moves if you buy my stuff.” People who have just signed up with a publisher don’t suddenly have something useful to say and those who don’t have publishing contracts aren’t devoid of things to talk about.
If you are writing a book or have written one and are trying to get it published, chances are you have something to say about something and there is no reason why you shouldn’t get involved in the online conversations about said something. That way you will already be connected with some potential readers when you do publish, heck you might even learn things about other perspectives which might influence your book.
Thank you for this post. It relieved some of my stress. I’ve been told that if you don’t blog, tweet, etc., you are not getting your face/name out there to make connections and you must therefore not be serious about your craft. Frankly, right now, I’m struggling just to find time to write.
I think it depends on your intentions. I am an unpublished writer, but I’ve had an Internet presence since 1998. I’ve had my domain since 2000. My blog is not geared to land agent and editor interest (although agents and editors are more than welcome to pop by and visit).
I think a good balance makes a good blog. I am thinking Sarah Dessen’s. She posts a lot about her personal life without revealing too much, but she also posts about her books and writing. I like those little insights into an author’s/writer’s life, and I find that when a lot of them get book contracts, all they do is talk about their books and their writing. That’s boring to me! I like the balance because I like to know the author as a person, not just a vehicle for books.
I guess I see blogging a bit differently than you do. When I read someone’s blog (for example, if that person’s name is the domain name), I’m going there to read about that person’s cat, life, etc. I’m going there to get to know him or her. If I want to read writing tips, I’ll come to a blog like this one (a name like kidlit, to me, means there won’t be much personal stuff going on).
So I guess it all depends on what you want to put out there and why.
I agree and disagree. I’m unpublished, and I don’t always have something “useful” to say, but who I am comes across in it and people are receptive to that. Two agents have even come across it and asked for my ms based on excerpts posted, and likewise another agent is interested in possible representation (i.e. in a nonfiction book form) from the topics I write about.
I think it’s all about if you do have something to say. You shouldn’t have a blog just to have one if there’s no effort or thought behind it, I agree. It’s not for everyone. But Not everyone has to write about writing all the time, either. That gets old too.
Again, I see both sides here. Great post Mary!
(And P.S. I liked reading about your cat!)
This makes me glad that when I started my blog it was never with the intention of being just a writing blog. One of the main goals of my blog is as an engineer to reach out to writers, so they don’t make the age old science fiction mistakes. (ie: There is NO sound in space. Stars cannot twinkle in space. No, you can’t use ion propulsion in the atmosphere). But its all a balance. My blog could easily become a time suck and start taking away from my actual writing, and that would defeat the entire purpose of blogging – like you said. Thanks for the great post, Mary!
For those of you who want a web presence, but not a blog, weebly [dot] com enables you to make your own simple website for free (you do need to purchase a domain name). Fortunately, I discovered it right before the NJ SCBWI Conference and scrambled to get a site together.
Another great post Mary and thanks for answering me in yesterday’s post.
I disagree with some of your points.
I don’t think anyone has been rejected for not having a blog or a website, or Twitter or Facebook or… However, I am a slush reader and I do look up the web presence of every single author that comes through the pile. I made note of it in the evaluation.
I have encouraged my writing friends to have a blog or website before being published. In fact, before submitting. The reason was so that they could figure it all out before anyone actually cares. It gives people a chance to figure out what their websites, their blogs, their entire online presence should be and learn to maintain it.
My blog has never been geared to agents or publishers. It’s been geared to readers. I do have a lot of new writers who follow me, so I blog about different parts of writing. I also blog about zombies that I’ve killed in the Home Depot parking lot. I’ve just added a new feature where I will be reviewing self-published and small press ebooks.
I enjoy blogging. And, I think my readers enjoy that I blog, too. It’s not so much about platform as it is about readers learning who I am and what to expect from my work.
…which, isn’t that the point of blogging, after all?
Great. Now I have to think up different procrastination tools posing as “career development.”
I do think it behooves unpublished authors to start developing the mindset of the day to day work of a published author, though. Online networking is not the most natural thing for many writers, and it’ll be a more organic transition to gregarious tweeter if you’ve gotten some practice before the professional wheels start turning.
Hmm, Not sure at all. Somehow you make the concept of blogging elitist. Myself happy to twitter, unpublished as I am and have met some very helpful and inspiring people on the way. It would sadden me to think that in my turn I would refrain from passing that forward. Bill
The secret of good blogging is surely giving more to your readers than you take from them. In other words, making sure your blog is rewarding those readers for spending time on it, regardless of what you write. Even established writers are capable of perpetrating a dreary ‘look at my breakfast blog’, while an unpublished writer could sparkle. So I agree that blogging for the sake of it is probably going to be a waste of everyone’s time. Unless you turn out to be good at it, that is.
personally, I’m more concerned with inexperienced writers giving advice online.
Soory… that should have been ‘regardless of what you write ABOUT.’
Wow. This is an interesting viewpoint. Don’t think I’ve met an agent with this opinion yet. But it’s a refreshing viewpoint. Love the comments you all have been making as well.
I’m all for blogs, tweeting, and facebooking. I love the people I’ve met and have actually was introduced to my agent via social networking. I think it only works if you put time into it and it’s not just all about you you you. Know what I mean?
Thanks for this post. It was thought provoking!!
Totally agree with you! There’s nothing worse than seeing a blog that hasn’t been updated for years. There are a lot of published authors who neglect their blogs as well. If you have something to say (published or unpublished) go ahead and say it, but if your blogging because you think you should, it becomes a nuisance.
I love you Mary!
And I agree with Lynn. I’ve met some fantastic people through tweeting. I’ve learned of many sites, programs, etc that have helped me as a writer. But my own blog suffers from neglect. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to revise my ms, read good blogs like this one, do my day job and keep up a good blog. Some manage, like Nathan B. He’s amazing, but he doesn’t have kids. They have to come first, for me.
This is a really good point. I started a blog with very little intention of ever gaining a following or solidifying a presence. I just wanted to keep a record of my writing process and (hopefully) the journey to publication. I thought I might as well make it public. People actually started reading it, and now I have a responsibility (a good one) that I never intended to have.
I think writers who blog soley to impress editors and agents are using up all the electrons.
If the writer isn’t speaking to the readers, why bother? Unless you teach, edit, beta or publish, why restrict yourself to blogging about writing? I’d rather hear about your cat.
I think it’s a good idea for writers to exercise their narrative voice and a blog is a good place to practice. It’s also a good place for readers to become familiar with that voice, because many of them fall in love with the writer’s voice and viewpoint and often become loyal readers. Blogging about their lives is better practice for that than reiterating ‘writing lessons’ they’ve picked up or trying to come off like an authority when their debut novel is still under production.
If you’re a chatty person – blog, twitter and facebook to your heart’s content. Your natural personality should be allowed to shine through.
I totally agree! It’s so easy to spin your wheels. I think the part of the “you should blog” advice that got lost in the shuffle is that you should be blogging to your potential audience. And that doesn’t mean blogging about your cat or blogging to get other writers to read your blog (a limited audience at best). (And I’m totally guilty of this, with a blog targeted towards writers that I have so much fun writing 🙂 ) Blogigng for an audience works much better for nonfiction authors for that reason.
Although i can’t totally diss my blog, since it has led directly to writing contracts and inquiries from agents. In general though, it’s just important to have the big picture in mind and be realistic about your goals.
I agree that no one HAS to blog, but I think many of your sub-points miss the mark in a lot of ways. In full disclosure, I’m a writer who got his book deal via his blog, and I consult with many writers, helping them develop effective social media strategies no matter where they are in their career. So I’m clearly biased, but I’m biased in no small part because I’ve seen countless unpubbed writers blog to tremendous results (deals, agents, connections with writers, editors, librarians, teachers, etc.).
I think the key for anyone blogging is to know why you’re doing it and who you’re hoping to interact with. At GottaBook, my “writing” blog, I don’t give tips or anything like that. Doing that wouldn’t have helped me reach my goals: give myself a voice in the children’s book community, connect with future friends and allies, AND create an audience for my poetry. Why in the world would I wait until I had a book under contract to do any of that?
I’m also confused why someone would necessarily have more to say once their book is under contract. They’ll simply have something different to say… assuming their blog is about the writer’s journey at all. In that period after contract, are you suggesting that someone should blog about every aspect of the build to publication? Who, exactly, does that appeal to? Is that the right target audience? Or put another way, if I don’t know you, why do I care that you have a book under contract (other than I am happy for anyone’s success)? How does that news make your blog interesting when people I’m connected with – folks I root for because I’m invested – and have been for some time are in the same position?
It takes time to build relationships and connections online, and that’s really, to my eyes, one of the main reasons to blog (or Tweet or use FB) – to connect. You can do that anytime and, in fact, the sooner you start doing it – with focus and consistency, it’s true – the better off you’ll be. (Keep in mind, too, that Seth Godin would say that the time to start marketing your book is three years before it’s out. That’s usually long before a contract, and marketing online starts with connections and your reputations.)
Again, it comes down to knowing why you’re going to spend your time blogging (or tweeting, etc). In other words, novel writers and picture book writers sure can develop a platform… and that platform can make a difference. Does it matter as much as for non-fiction writers (where, at least in the adult world, there’s no myth about needing a platform)? Not yet. But that’s comparing apples to oranges, isn’t it?
Blogging can help an unpublished writer in a slew of ways. It doesn’t mean anyone HAS to do it, I agree. But I think there are many reasons to do it that you skipped in your post.
Look, if you are awesome at tweeting and blogging and you like it. DO IT. It doesn’t hurt.
But if you stink like a three month old cabbage at it. Don’t. Just don’t. Really. Bad blogs are worse than none at all.
And for me, writing comes first.
I agree with jmartinlibrary. . . do what you love and what you’re good at (and what you have time to do). I think Mary’s point is that if you want to write and get published, you shouldn’t feel as if you have to blog/Tweet/FB to succeed in those other big picture goals. I eventually want an internet presence beyond what I have now (Twitter/FB), but I’m not sure what at this point in my newbie career. If I blog, I’m thinking of going the collaborative route b/c I don’t think I could keep up with a regular “just me” blog.
I think we all know the reasons to do it, I think Mary is trying to quell the fears of those who aren’t doing it but feel some sort of pressure to do it, even though it might not really be the thing for them.
(Thanks for letting us off the hook, Mary! LOL!)
Thank you so much for this post, Mary!! I’ve been stressing out as a couple members of my cg have been on my case to start a blog, but my explanation as to why I don’t is eerily similar to this post! I don’t even have a cat I could blog about. I think I’ll send them the link and say “See? I told you so!”
I agree with you Mary. Content is king on the Internet. If you want to blog, make it about relevant info–not personal fluff.
I do not blog, tweet, etc., but I follow a few aspiring author blogs – mostly of people I’ve met on other blogs, forums, etc. (Is it sad to admit that I’ve never met some of my best friends? *sigh*)
I do worry when I read a blog post (or several) about how hard it is to get an agent/publisher. How many times they’ve been rejected, writer’s block and how hard it is to edit seem to be common themes. This is all true, of course!!! But I’m not sure that someone picking you out of the slush needs to know it (if that’s your goal).
And to the commenter who asked if you suddenly have more to say if you’re published – no, you don’t. However, more people are listening.
I was on the fence about blogging but I took the plunge a couple of months ago and I love it. I will admit that it takes a bite out of my writing time. I don’t really expect agents to read my posts. But it really has done a couple of amazing things:
If I don’t write anything else, I write three 500-word essays a week.
I am more up on my YA reading than I ever have been in my life (I blog about books).
There are some really cool bloggers that I wouldn’t know about any other way.
I know that it’s a commitment and I shudder at the thought of having a “dead blog” someday. But if I ever do get published, I would like to feel like I was part of this blogging thing before I was trying to sell a product. I would also like to think that I gave back to some other authors by blogging their books. So, I’m pretty happy I took the plunge. 🙂
Great post and I think go with what you feel comfortable with. I came off Facebook (as a writing platform) and I haven’t looked back, but I find Twitter ever more useful. But again there are only so many useful blogs, websites that you need to know about.
Blogging has become a bit of a bind for me, but at the same time I am getting great feedback from established authors. My stats are slowly improving but hardly any followers. I would like to know if it is okay to step back a little once you ‘find your voice’ and put out there what you are comfortable with on a less frequent basis. All the ‘experts’ say you have to blog twice a week and that is a ridiculous time suck (when you have kids at home 24/7 and they don’t sleep!).
I have just learnt that I need to learn more about meter for my rhyming pbs so I would like to leave my blog well alone while I learn and re-write my rhyming stories. And I have in-laws coming from Uk soon for four weeks. I’ll be lucky if I get to read a picture book 😉 p.s. and they arrive right in the middle of my first ever online conference yay 🙁
Mary – so wise. Well said. I’m doing a workshop on blogging and Twitter (etc) for writers and i’ll be saying just the same. I’d also add that following people’s blogs, if you don’t want one yourself, is a great thing to do – by joining in the comments you make friends and learn stuff.
I’d also add that one way in which an unpublished writer could usefully blog is by using some of the research/factual background of the book he/she is writing and becoming a resource for others who are interested in that topic. For example, if you write historical novels, or if they are set in a particular place. That way, you show yourself as an expert, get to show off your expertise, make contacts etc. BUT, as you say, none of this is likely to influence an agent or publisher for a novel. (Though it easily could for non-fiction.)
I absolutely love blogging. I’m a novelist (mainly) but my blog is a publishing advice one. I only do it because I love it. (Mind you, I did get a blog-to-book deal out of it, but that was never ever imagined, let alone planned.) I think that’s the other benefit of blogging: it leads to unpredictable benefits. But, I completely agree that no one should feel they *should*.
It’s a very interesting point of view. I agree that there is a bunch of bad/forgotten blogs out there and that if you’re not into blogging, you’ll get lost in that “slush pile”.
Blogging also doesn’t make following magically appear. It requires work and time that takes minutes away from the limited writing time us, unpublished authors, often have. It needs to be a carefully weighed decision.
Personally, I started my blog to work on my craft. My first language is French but I want to tackle the English-speaking publishing industry. My trial by fire? Write a blog novel (and various short stories) for the public to see and tear down (if need be) before sending my other writing projects out to professionnal eyes.
I also do writing advice from time to time and bit about my life and corner of the world. Mostly, I’m just telling “coffee-break sized” fiction (things that can be read in 15 minutes or less).
I learn a lot, have fun and am slowly building a following. If my blog becomes a stepping stone for publication, that’s fine with me. That’s not why I do it though.
This is a great post. Your comment about the rabbit hole of social media is so valid.
Thanks, Mary! This post was incredibly helpful!
I found this post interesting, mainly because once I signed with an agent they told me to start a blog page, join up with twitter etc etc. I am not published, I only have an agent, but yet you say I shouldn’t blog?? Are you saying that my agent is wrong in requesting me to do so?? I have to say that I am now completely confused…
Emma — No need to break your brain over it.
I’m still very much on the fence about whether or not the blogs of unpublished writers really move the needle (obviously, people whose blogs became books don’t count here, but those are often nonfiction, humor, memoir, or novelty blogs that get picked up as products). I’m just saying that I PERSONALLY find most unpublished writer blogs to be a good exercise for the writer but of no consequence to me.
Lots of people love blogging. But some people do it because they think they HAVE to do it, and those blogs are usually a waste of space. So blog if you really want to, if you feel like you have a lot to say, if you think you’ll benefit from it. Blogging because you think you have to blog (or because someone tells you but you don’t happen to have an interest in it) isn’t usually the best approach.
You should make your own decision. There are many viewpoints to choose from in these comments.
Thank you for an excellent post. This is something that I’ve thought about a lot lately as an unpublished writer who is trying to break into the industry. I understand the importance of having an on-line presence, but putting out a substandard blog would be worse than no blog at all. Instead, at this point, I’ve chosen to make my primary interaction connecting with other authors on their blogs and through Twitter. It’s a start to an on-line presence that can be expanded upon later when I have more to share with the community and, by that point, I’ll be familiar to some members of that community.
Thanks for sharing your insight on this topic with us.
Excellent post! This is what I’ve been telling writers & clients–only not as well.
I love blogging. It’s through blogging that I discovered I was powerless over writing. Who knew?
When I decided to become a children’s writer, I stepped back from my blog and began to focus on writing and critiquing. I am a mom of two young ones and, after all, there are only so many hours in the day.
Here are two of my concerns:
1) My blog posts aren’t in my “writer’s voice”. They’re mostly in my “personal journal” or “writing to a friend” voice. I worry that potential editors and agents may read my blog and become confused, unable to pinpoint what I’m all about, what I can do them. I am currently writing picture books and framing out a YA paranormal. Any picture book ideas and fragments I would share should be my best work in order to put my best foot forward. The problem is that once I hit the “publish” button they will be rendered unpublishable, and possibly even borrowed and reworked by another. It’s a quandary.
2) Leaving my stagnant blog in limbo. I have hundreds of posts and still receive a bit of traffic, but now, (and especially after reading this post!); I worry about the impression left by my not-really-abandoned-but-put-on-hold-until-further-notice personal blog. I stopped blogging to focus on writing, but is that the impression left by my blog? Does it scream out “serious writer” or “wishy-washy blogger”? Is it hindering my chances for success?
I understand what you’re saying about waiting until you’re published to start blogging about your craft, and was not offended by it. Although I enjoy reading writing blogs by other unpublished writers, I realize it’s a bit of a risk. Unpublished writers blog about emotions, vent, share and support. In doing so, we run the risk of looking unprofessional.
Most of us (and there are exceptions) can’t share the inside knowledge and tips that most other unpublished writers crave. Only after publication will we be able to reflect and craft posts outlining our experiences – what worked, and what didn’t. There is some real value there for our readers. However, I like to think of it as a an equal, but different kind of value to support and commiseration, which can keep some talented individuals in the writing game instead of throwing in the towel.
Before I considered strengthening my writing skills and began to take myself seriously, I enjoyed freedom of expression. I didn’t blog to inform or educate. From time to time I pretended to, but in truth I blogged to express and connect. I miss all of that, but my desire to become a better writer is a stronger pull.
Most writers are a bit quirky by nature, yet we are being advised to put our most professional, non-eccentric, sensibly-shoed feet forward in all our public dealings should we hope to get published. This is good advice. It’s reality. It would seem that the internet has become a living, breathing, and permanent public résumé.
If we’re savvy, we can use the internet as a tool to shape public perception — to plant ideas about ourselves and hope they take root. Orchids. “Heather Kephart is heart.” If we’re not so savvy, we can plant the wrong types of ideas and they will flourish and grow during the dawn as we are sleeping, strangle our orchids and extract vital nutrients from the soil.
(As luck would have it, my server is down and my website will be unavailable until this weekend. Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows.)
Great points Heather.
I have been thinking about this since I first read this post and I would love to write a cartoon or just conversations between my two most prominent characters. Maybe even write about my week but through the eyes of my characters.
It is probably harder to blog, if you were never into reading others blogs before you started.
Kangaroo has a long neck, she can afford to put it on the line!
(not sure about me though 😉 How do you delete comments once you have submitted them?)
Mary – to clarify, I also wasn’t talking about blogs that become books themselves. In my case, the short version of the story is that I posted 20 syllable poems called Fibs on my blog and ended up with a two book deal for novels with Arthur A. Levine. I know other writers who’ve made connections via their blog with people who have ended up giving them deals or led them to agents or or or. Those are the things I’m talking about, not the blog becoming so popular like the Fake AP Style Book. Book deals are rare in a direct line in both iterations, of course, but relationships that matter are NOT rare.
And to Erica Olson who said “And to the commenter who asked if you suddenly have more to say if you’re published – no, you don’t. However, more people are listening.” That was me, and I’d simply ask who these new listening people are, how did they hear about your blog to start listening, and how do those people help you and your career? Personally, I don’t think there’s a default that says more people are listening because you have a deal (though would agree once you have a best seller!). I think people listen because they grow connected, and it don’t much matter if you’ve got a deal or not.
When I try to turn blogging into something I do regularly, I find myself posting bits that I don’t love, which doesn’t represent me well. If I post only when I feel inspired, I occasionally leave huge chunks of time with no posts. Ultimately, I just can’t have something that isn’t my ultimate goal as a writer become something that takes a lot of my time. If people are considering creating a blog in order to build a web presence, then they should think about the gratification they might receive from that act, because that’s most of the benefit you gain. You meet some nice people and can google yourself and get results, which is fun in a narcissistic kind of way. But will it ever help sell the book that I’m writing? Probably not. Will the book be written more quickly because I devoted so much time to my online presence? Probably not. But to me, blogging because you feel you have to is like when people ask, “What genre is hot? I’ll write that.” There’s no way the product is coming from the heart.
I believe that it’s great when established authors and personalites keep a blog for us. If an author is published and I love his/her books, I might follow the blog because it allows me to follow them as a character and feel involved in their lives. If I’ve just watched a No Reservations marathon and can’t get enough Tony Bourdain, I might go to his blog because he’s kind of a riot.
I agree with a lot of people who have commented on this. If you love it, you’ll do a good job and it will be fulfilling. Maybe someone will discover you- that’s great. I don’t feel that putting another stress on ourselves is going to get us closer to the ultimate goal of publishing a book. Successful bloggers are disciplined about posting, which is time committment, as is actively building a following. I admire the people who take the time.
Personally, I’m taking a break for the summer so I can work on another project. This choice won’t bode well for my online presence, but I’m sticking to my guns.
If hell freezes over and I become a published novelist, I may have to blog more regularly.
Greg – I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. Friends of mine are part of the “Elevensies” and have gotten some blog traffic that way – networking through that site and the other members of the group. That did not happen before they got their deals – before that, they were followed by friends/family. But that’s traffic of other writers. I’ve also seen blogs that attract the attention of agents, but I haven’t had the opportunity to hear that it helped them with their publishing goals.
So, I guess, in the end, it’s best to write a bestseller and let people come to you 🙂
“The Bloggess” is a friend of mine, and she was approached by an agent who read her blog to write a book. But she’s an internet rock star- not your typical blogger.
My response to this is a tad mixed. I agree that there are enough people filling up the web with foolishness, but then isn’t it incumbent upon writers to learn to do it better? This is our business after all.
I believe that anyone who aspires to become a professional AUTHOR needs to blog. If you suck at it, you will improve. You cannot gain a web following of 30,000 hits overnight. It takes time to build that kind of readership, and the day you get an agent is not the time to start at ground zero, especially when the competition is as steep as it is.
I actually built NY Times Best Selling Author Bob Mayer’s social media platform (among others) and have now come out with a book called We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media (forgive the self-promo). Part of why I wrote a book for WRITERS–not a modifed social media retread–was for the exact reason you are talking about.
Writers blogging about their cat or griping about how hard it is to get an agent is not professional content that will create a platform and ultimately drive SALES. And who gets forgotten? The reader. Is it because the writer sits up all night thinking of ways to be oblivious? No. They just haven’t had a lot of guidance about content…until now.
It is possible to market fiction and speak to readers and have plenty of content…so long as you blog on TOPIC. That will use all kinds of NF informational tags that can generate traffic and create a readership. If you write Sci-fi, write about Area 51 or coverups or current breaking light speed theory. Write historical romance? Blog about tid bits from the time period. Write about vampires? Blog about the legends of vampires around the world. Ways the myth began. Use the research that (a good writer) should already be conducting and use it to generate content that speaks to your future readers. If I LOVE vampires and you write a great blog about the factual basis of all kinds of myths, then I will get to know you and trust you when you have a full book.
Profile the reader. If you write sci-fi, who is your reader and what do they do other than read books? They like MysteryQuest and Nostradamus Effect and go to Trekkie conventions. When you are blogging for a demographic, that opens you up to innumerable topics. You can blog for YEARS about Easter Island, foo fighters, Area 51, Gene Roddenberry, Stephen Hawkin’s, worm holes, etc and SPEAK to people who like those subjects and are likely to READ a sci-fi novel. And the best part, is you are speaking TO your potential readers.
Blogging about writing or publishing alienates most of your readership (the ones who aren’t writers). Blog on topics that would interest the demographic you are hoping to one day sell.
Blogging will teach you discipline, will get you used to doing a VITAL part of your BUSINESS and will make you grow in your knowledge and subject. The agent is not going to build us a platform. The publishing house is not going to put a lot of marketing money toward a new writer. 93% of first novels fail (BEA statistics-includes self-pubbed and trad-pubbed novels) because writers failed to create a platform that generated the sales that naturally led to another book deal.
Sorry for the long response. I get really passionate on this topic. Thanks for the blog and for addressing the subject!
I see where you’re coming from, and I agree that content is important.
However, you make the distinction between published and unpublished writers, as if getting a book contract automatically makes someone a good and/or useful blogger, when it really doesn’t.
Blogging isn’t as difficult as writing a book, but I’d say it’s a skill of sorts. Something which can only be acquired through deliberate intent.
Better to acquire that skill now than wait till you get your book contract. All too many published or soon-to-be published writers use their blogs for social broadcasting, when social networking (actually engaging with people) would be far more effective and a lot more fun.
That was a very interesting post ! I blog and I love it ! I am not a professional writer . I am not writing a book (or anything else) at the moment . I just love writing , really ,really LOVE it . Blogging got me back into writing after years and years away from it . As a previous poster asserted , blogging means that I write something – sometimes several things – on a weekly basis . It is not a bad discipline to engage in .
I have been surprised that people visit my blog , some of them on a regular basis . In some very small way I appear to have acquired something resembling a readership : ) Yes , It surprises me too : ) I write about everything that is personal , including my cat(s) ! None the less I can see and hear the wisdom in much of what you are saying . You know your stuff . I agree with a lot of it . But not quite all . Yet I will still keep blogging . Just because I LOVE IT ! : D
I am a writer. I am unpublished. I Tweet to connect with others on the same journey. I Tweet to connect with others on a different journey. I will start a blog one day. I think it’s important to connect and be human. I don’t agree with you that only published writers should blog. I have read hundreds of awesome blogs by writers who have no intention of ever writing for print. They blog to inspire and to have a voice. What is the definition of good writing – only writing that has been published? There are loads of terribly bad books out there. Let the amateur blogs be there. I say let everyone have a chance to play and be heard.
To Catherine Johnson, thanks to you and Kangaroo Giraffe for making me smile. I think you’re plenty savvy & WOW what a fabulous blog you’ve got there. My intent was just to scan, but I found myself getting lost in your posts. Informative, sweet and fun! I’m following you now and I’ll post a link on my blog Picture Book Writer if my server ever comes back up. 🙂
With high regards to everyone who has commented–since this is tricky and controversial issue–I think people are speaking past each other here. I believe Mary’s point isn’t that unpublished or aspiring writers shouldn’t blog, but merely that those who are are unagented and unpublished don’t have as compelling and immediate of a need to blog.
For some writers, this lack of immediate need will mean nothing since they enjoy blogging, are internally motivated to blog, desire to be the originators of social connections (as differs from those who connect on others’ blogs and sites), or see blogging as a critical tool for personal success. Good for these folks! They give the rest of us something to read and aspire to, and since they have the drive to do it, what they get out of it will probably be worth their time.
For those who don’t have this drive, interest, or any idea of what to blog about, the “Thou shalt blog regardless” commandment is pressure that can get in the way of developing into the type of writer who can land that editor or agent and possess the later skill and confidence to put out a fascinating blog. While blogging is writing, for most people it’s a very different style of writing than what would be in their printed works. It’s time that can, perhaps–and I know this is a powerful “perhaps”–be better spent developing storytelling and character development skills to the point where the more immediate goals of representation and publication are met.
So, of course, the writing world is sprinkled with many who have found professional success through online activities (particularly blogging), but for most, the central professional use is as tool to promote a published product. If you love blogging, do it, and maybe those great connections will pay off. If not, don’t. Social networking is a tool, and like all tools it must be used skillfully or it can destroy as much as build.
Also, for those who do have agents or editors or, especially, books in print, maintaining an online presence is essential because the mere fact of their present or impending publication gives them an automatic platform or credibility and interest to an audience. The assumption is that a published author clearly knows things that the unwashed masses don’t. Plus, the published author has a product to promote, so advertising and connecting online is no longer the option it was before. This doesn’t necessarily make the published author a more thrilling person than the unpublished, but it does give him or her immediate motivation and one specific asset that makes an audience interested in his or her musings: a published book. This fact also implies that the author has his or craft under control to a point where handling a blog should be an expected part of the skill set.
So, if you want to blog, blog. If you want to Tweet, Tweet. But if you’d rather spend the extra time on revision skills or reading books in your field at Borders, or watching people in a mall to build a library of characters, then do those things also or instead. We all have choices, and each person is the best judge of his or her own best pursuits.
Thanks for the insights!
I’ve been blogging off and on for about five years, but it hasn’t been what you’d call regular. Part of that has been the busy-busy-busy of life, part of it has been the time it takes from writing, and part of it has been not wanting to run out of material TOO fast when I do get published.
Did. Did! I did get published. Keep having to tell myself that. Just recently, still waiting for the release date (August 1st! Not much longer!). Still, I’ve been feeling horribly guilty for not having spent four to eight hours a week networking. This makes me feel a lot better about all that time spent writing instead of blogging.
Ultimately, we have to write a darn good book, FIRST. That should be the priority. But, we also have to face that with the Information Age, a lion’s share of the marketing will be dropped in our lap. Waiting until we get the book deal (in my opinion) is just crazy and can add a lot of unecessary pressure that can affect the quality of future books.
Blogging is a great way to build a following for writing and content. If you don’t blog well, it would behoove you to learn. There are books and blogs to teeach us. And if you are new and you suck, who are you going to alienate anyway? Three followers? As you improve so will your following.
I say use that newbie time to gain habits of self-discipline as you improve and gain followers. When I started blogging (I was unpublished) and looking back, the blogs were pretty awful. But I only had fifteen hits per month. But I kept practicing and posting and modifying my content and now I have thousands of hits per month. Isn’t better that I wrote all those sucky blogs years before my BOOK came out?
I think everyone has posted some great comments, and this is just my opinion. All I know is that you can’t always work on your book. Being an author is a lifestyle. Reading, watching movies, critique groups, all count as “work.” In my opinion, blogging is part of the job description. Once you are published you will be competing against other authors who do blog and who have blogged for years. People like me who started when they were unpubbed and didn’t know a good blog from a hole in the ground, but who kept at it.
You could have a great book and no following and you will be up against a not-so-great-book with a following in the thousands. Could you come out ahead? Sure. But it’s a lot of pressure exacerbated by being ill-prepared. Writers no longer have the luxury of solitude. It stinks. I would rather focus on my books than worry about marketing too. But it is reality. We didn’t choose it, but we would be wise to accept it and work with i. It can make the difference between “career author” and “one hit wonder.”.
Mary, I hope you’re still reading comments on this post, as I just now read it…I’m recouperating from surgery, so both blogging and keeping up with my favorites have fallen behind. But I have a question: I’m a MG/YA writer, and a retired teacher. I guess I’m still teaching…most of the posts on my blog are about writing. I’ve posted tips on such things as POV, how characters show emotion, voice ( both your voice as an author and the voice of your characters), Book reviews, and so on. I’ve also posted about some of the workshops I’ve taken at conferences, along with notes from them.
In other words, I’m trying to help beginning writers learn some of the things I’ve learned about writing.
So far, I’ve published stories and NF, but both of my finished novels are in the final revision stages, so I have not yet begun to query agents.
So my question is, are the things I’ve posted useful content to other writers, or am I wasting my time? I have published a couple of purely personal posts on the blog, but don’t do that very often. Nor do I talk much…if at all…about my writing, how many words/pages I finished today, my latest rejection, or whatever. ( Since I haven’t queried you, you could take a quick look at my blog, listed under “website” above, but perhaps you could also answer my question without doing that. Just in general, of course…I just don’t know if I’m wasting my time, after reading this post of yours.
Mikki — It sounds like you’re finding this fulfilling, so keep on keepin’ on. How can you tell if your posts are helpful? Well, are you getting traffic to your blog? Are people commenting? That’s usually how you can tell if you’re moving the needle in any way. But, as you can tell from these comments, blogging really does stir up a lot of passion! If you’re passionate about it, I say keep on doing it. If you’re just doing it because you think you have to, take a peek and see if it’s worth it for you.
Great blog post, Mary! I think you’re exactly right. Blogging/tweeting is a huge time suck and the writing is what’s really important (and now I have to get back to it.)
Great post, I thoroughly agree – don’t jump into the blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting if you don’t have an innate desire to, because your lack of desire will show. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, having an active online presence has been a very good thing for me – I’ve struck up acquaintances and friendships with a ton of other writers, I’ve gotten numerous agent referrals, I’ve opened lines of communication with more than one editor because they found my online persona amusing, and the agent I ultimately accepted representation from originally requested pages from me after reading my blog. But I honestly believe that all those things happened because I genuinely enjoy Facebooking, Tweeting and blogging. Topic-wise I stick largely to my own writing, and more than often than not by only goal is to amuse myself. I don’t know that I provide any kind of definable value to anyone, and I certainly don’t have thousands (or even hundreds) of readers. But I have fun goofing around online, and I think that’s what’s drawn positive responses from other folks. If I didn’t enjoy my own efforts at being online, I seriously doubt anyone else would.
Thanks for this statement:
“You can come gripe about rejections, brag about word count, share your successes and frustrations and make friends. While that’s nice for you, it has little value to an agent or editor … who comes to visit. ”
I’d add, little value for ‘readers’ who come visit. I’m sure there is a place for the writer’s community to share war stories. Personal blogs don’t need to be that place. I’ve stumbled across writers’ blogs that talk about the publishing game/business as the content of their blog and wonder if people realize that THAT IS THE MESSAGE THE PUBLIC IS GETTING about theose writers. They may be the most brilliant philosopher, or the most research savvy historcal-novelist in the world. But I don’t see that if their blog posts are comprised of “Whew, another 1300 words down today. Gotta go put in those peony transplants now. G’night”.
I’m a writer who journals mostly, with a couple novels and short stories under my belt, and never thought blogging was worth anything becasue of so many vacant messages like this. The I found a few that I like to go back to, simply becasue the content is consistent, and the writing ABOUT that content is good. I read blogs about football, or beer, or politics, or business, or fashion, or poetry. The common theme is that they are all well written, and reveal honest storytelling, whatever the topic may be. (Good example is beeronmyshirt.blogspot.com) This is the test for new bloggers: find a theme that you can write about regularly that can also take your storytelling outside the realm of the mundane. I didn’t think I’d like blogging, but when I realized that blogging was just ‘writing’, but without the predictable canonical formats, I started to really enjoy it.
Just a fast question about blogging and fiction. Though I’ve done quirky observational blogs to a very modest few, my novel falls squarely into the dark-urban-fantasy genre. I would like to build up at least a small platform before I query an agent, but I don’t see how my sharing observations about upper-middle-class white women who purchase “Spiritual Indian Names” (via a guru’s webpage) will draw interest in a novel about the Cailleach Bheur abducting people from the produce section of Albertson’s. Should I simply do a series of short stories to pique interest in the world I’ve created? Or should I keep making observational humor blogs, on the assumption that what I write is less important than how many people follow me? I’ve been looking around, and most “fantasy blogs” I’ve seen have either been from published authors and/or been about the process of writing. I’m confused.
I enjoy blogging! I’m not published, yet. And, no, I also don’t do it for the money or press coverage. I’m a writer and so my main goal is to grip, grunt, and (g)rant!
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